13-year-old Black Boy was almost hanged…TWICE (1894)

"Thirteen-Year-Old Colored Boy Tortured by Sleuths" (1894)
“Fine Detective Work” Black Boy Tortured and wrongfully accused of murder Dec. 19, 1894

THIS DAY IN HISTORY- Dec 20, 1894, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Teenage boy named John Bird was tortured and falsely accused of murder. The assailants, two bigoted detectives assumed the worse of this black boy.  According to this article published in the Scranton Tribune, “the boy knew nothing and says they hauled him up twice for several seconds each time.” After failing to choke any information out of John Bird, he told reporters “they threatened to kill him if he told about them hanging him.”

If you think I am reaching with this one, let’s take a closer look:

First of all, “FINE DETECTIVE WORK”?? Whoever the author of this article was, clearly believed that regardless of whether or not John Bird–a child, was innocent, job well done for these detectives. Assumably, these “acting detectives” were well within their rights to interrogate this teenage boy in such as horrific way. Second, I believe this article reveals the legacy of racism, bigotry, and injustices towards black people in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Although it can be argued that no record of black folks being lynched in NEPA exists, it can also be argued that act of lynching was threatened and even attempted on the black body.

So, before you say “well this was sooooo long ago” think about all the black boys that have been brutalized, tortured, and killed by police. Then maybe this will begin to make sense. Maybe we should being to take a historically critical look at the language that is used in newspapers to talk about people of color (specifically black boys and men).  You might begin to see the biases and the framework that dehumanizes us. I have not been able to find out what happened to John Bird after this was published 124 years ago–this day in history, but I hope that his innocence was seen and protected. I hope that that rope never saw his neck again. I pray for his safety and that he lived a long and full life.




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